Luke Rowe dedicates the majority of his time supporting Sky team-mates but got the rare chance to vie for his own victory working with Peter Kennaugh at the end of the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race yesterday.
The 24-year-old finished the inaugural one-day event fourth behind Gianni Meersman (Ettix-QuickStep), Simon Clarke (Orica-GreenEdge) and Nathan Haas (Cannondale-Garmin) in what was a good learning curve for he and British national road champion Kennaugh especially.
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Sky riders were given a free role in the punchy 174km circuit race in and around Geelong, Victoria as opposed to supporting one contender as had been the case at the preceding Tour Down Under where almost the same team worked for runner-up Richie Porte.
Kennaugh committed to supporting Rowe in the small group sprint finish after his own notable attempts to force multiple moves throughout didn’t stick.
“It was just an open race to do what we wanted so whenever I can do what I want, instead of working for the team, I always like to get my head out there and get involved,” the Manxman said.
Rowe bridged across to the lead group, which included Kennaugh, within the final 10km of the race and was in the mix along the home straight, however, sprinted too early in a headwind finish and faded in the last 100m.
“We work for the other guys so much you forget how to do those kind of race situations, when you’re not in that position very often these days,” Kennaugh said. “It’s good to do and get experience for the future.”
It’s a sentiment that Rowe, whose last victory was the opening stage of the 2012 Tour of Britain, agreed with.
“It’s a good point,” he said. “I’ve been a pro three years now and 99 per cent of the races I just commit to other guys. Here we all had our own role, it was a free race, and you do have to get used to how to win again. As an amateur you do it week in and week out but, here, it’s something I haven’t done for a while, sprinted for the win.
“The difference is when you’re working for other guys, your finish line is one kilometre to go, two kilometres to go, the bottom of a climb,” Rowe continued. “Racing for yourself you have to start predicting when to kick and doing those little things that make the difference between winning and losing.”
Sky embarked on a staff restructure prior to the new WorldTour season and is set to have an increased presence at smaller races throughout the year with rider development outside of its established Grand Tour winning hierarchy in mind.
Kennaugh will work closely with esteemed coach Rod Ellingworth now as he looks to make more of a mark on the road after a 2014 campaign in which title honours at the British national road championship, Coppi e Bartali and the Tour of Austria reminded the 2012 London Olympic team pursuit gold medallist of how to race as a winner.
“After last year with a few results and stuff you get it back quickly, but when you spend four years doing a domestique role, or getting bottles, keeping the guys out the wind and in position for the climbs, when it comes in to sprint finishes like that [in Geelong], or the thick end of a bike race where it’s all going off, you can see the guys who have experience racing in that position,” he said. “They’re so much wiser and use their efforts so much smarter. I think it’s something I’ve got to work on, just holding back a bit and being more clever with efforts.
“It’s taken me a few years to get that consistency on the road and that strength where I can come to races and race, rather than take half a season to get going, or being in the back group and then finding form later in the year,” he continued. “It’s good for my confidence to come here and race against some of the top riders in the world, and not just be hanging on and trying to stay in there.”